Superparamagnetic iron oxide nanoparticles impair endothelial integrity and inhibit nitric oxide production

Superparamagnetic iron oxide nanoparticles (SPION) are widely used both clinically and experimentally for diverse in vivo applications, such as contrast enhancement in magnetic resonance imaging, hyperthermia and drug delivery. Biomedical applications require particles to have defined physical and chemical properties, and to be stable in biological media. Despite a suggested low cytotoxic action, adverse reactions of SPION in concentrations relevant for biomedical use have not yet been studied in sufficient detail. In the present work we employed Endorem®, dextran-stabilized SPION approved as an intravenous contrast agent, and compared its action to a set of other nanoparticles with potential for magnetic resonance imaging applications. SPION in concentrations relevant for in vivo applications were rapidly taken up by endothelial cells and exhibited no direct cytotoxicity. Electric cell impedance sensing measurements demonstrated that SPION, but not BaSO4/Gd nanoparticles, impaired endothelial integrity, as was confirmed by increased intercellular gap formation in endothelial monolayers. These structural changes induced the subcellular translocation and inhibition of the cytoprotective and anti-atherosclerotic enzyme endothelial NO-synthase and reduced NO production. Lipopolysaccharide-induced inflammatory NO production of macrophages was not affected by SPION. In conclusion, our data suggest that SPION might substantially alter endothelial integrity and function at therapeutically relevant doses, which are not cytotoxic.